Paralegal/Legal Assistant  What They Do

Just the Facts

Paralegals and Legal Assistants Career Video

Insider Info

dotParalegals perform a variety of tasks depending on their area of practice and level of experience, and may work in specific areas of law, such as litigation, probate or real estate. They're not allowed to give legal advice -- that's for lawyers only.

dotParalegals always work under the supervision of a lawyer. They maintain records, do legal research, interview clients, investigate facts, draft documents and perform whatever other duties a lawyer might assign them in order to complete a legal transaction.

dotThey work in legal firms, legal services programs (as counselors or advocates), corporate legal departments and in the civil service.

Jennifer Calhoun worked as a paralegal for years. Now, she is an instructor in a legal assistant program. She says there's ample opportunity for change in the field.

"If you've got something that you're interested in, you've got the opportunity to pursue it. You have many avenues you can go down. There's family law, there's corporate law, there's real estate law, [and] there's wills and estate administration law. There's all sorts of things that you can go into. You don't have to stay in one area," explains Calhoun.

dotParalegals spend much of their time sitting in front of a computer or in a law library. Reading and assimilating information quickly is a major plus for this profession. Paralegals often work on tight deadlines, so stress levels may be high.

dotPhysical requirements may vary depending on the firm and its size, notes the National Association for Legal Assistants. More and more, paralegals work with computerized filing systems and computerized legal databases.

Arthur Greene is a member on the advisory board for the Legal Assistant Management Association. He says legal assistants do more than sit at a desk. There's often a little legwork involved in getting from one place to another -- and fast!

"They do all kinds of things," says Greene. "In most firms where they are well used, they operate a little bit like some of the young lawyers do. They attend meetings, they do investigations. [The job] come in all different varieties!"

dotOvertime isn't unusual, as paperwork and legal documents must be prepared to strict deadlines.

According to Greene, hours depend on the area of law you work in. "I think for those that work in litigation and trial work...hours are long and tend to be irregular. I think in probate or business law, or real estate law, they tend to be more regular hours."

dotParalegals must interact with people from all walks of life, and should have excellent interpersonal skills. They also have to be thorough, neat and organized.

Just the Facts

Want a quick overview of what this career is about?Check out Just the Facts for simple lists of characteristics.

At a Glance

Do the preliminary organization and preparation of legal forms and documents required in court

  • Paralegals always work under the supervision of lawyers
  • This job requires excellent written and verbal communication skills
  • Most employers want someone with a bachelor's degree